Second Amendment Follies, Part 1: An Inconvenient Clause

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Let’s be clear: Americans have a right to own guns. But it’s not a constitutional right. And it’s not a “God-given” right. It’s a right conferred by the rulings of a “conservative” Supreme Court, in a grotesquely distorted reading of the Second Amendment.

But in the interests of accuracy and satisfying curiosity, let’s consider the Second Amendment in more detail. We’ve touched on this topic in a previous discussion, but it was hardly exhaustive. In fact, it was quite cursory, and was designed to show that the amendment is a semantic mess that, at the very least, casts serious doubts on the gun culture’s claims of a constitutional right to be armed. And as long as there is one scintilla of doubt, then you cannot say (as many do) that there is an absolute right enshrined in the Constitution to tote a hogleg.

The gun culture tries to dance around the actual meaning of the Second Amendment in several ways. First of all, it simply ignores the first part of the sentence, the inconvenient explanation for its existence:

A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state…

And instead, gunsters just cut to the part they actually like…

…the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

You seriously will hear many of them simply quote that second half as representing the entire Second Amendment (as on that handy-dandy magnetic sign pictured above), perhaps followed by a haughty “what part of that don’t you understand?”

How about the part they omitted? The part which, as we mentioned before, could be construed as the actual subject of the sentence. The part which, whether one reads it as the subject or not, is placed at the beginning and is clearly crucial to understanding the Amendment’s meaning and purpose.

Even when they acknowledge this elephant in the living room, the gun fanatics try to diminish its importance. They often try to dismiss the opening as merely a “justification clause” while the second half is the actual “rights clause”; or alternatively, “prefatory clause”, and “operative clause”. Nice words, but they don’t change anything: the beginning clause still expresses the purpose and reason for the amendment being drafted in the first place: i.e., to ensure a “well-regulated militia”. The gun culture’s conclusion that “gun rights” were not meant to be limited to this purpose alone is based on clues extraneous to the amendment itself, and indeed extraneous to the constitution. (Incidentally, in strict grammarian usage, the two phrases referred to are not really “clauses”; but since that’s the label they’re commonly given, we won’t be sticklers on this point for the time being.)

Suppose you opened up a cookbook and found a passage like this:

A well-made fruitcake being necessary for a traditional Christmas celebration, you should make certain to have a supply of citron on hand.

Would you conclude that this sentence was written to encourage everyone to stockpile citron, all year long? Or would you conclude that it was written to help ensure a well-made fruitcake?

Another tactic the gun culture (and right-wing extremists in general) often employ is playing the “original intent” card; if the Constitution doesn’t say what they want it to, they try to discern what the framers really meant. They do this in part by just playing psychic, though they try to buttress their claims by scratching through an endless supply of documents for “historical context”.

Now certainly historical context is, up to a point, useful and even vital. It’s important, for instance, to understand what words like “militia” and “arms” meant to the framers who used them. But the “original intent” crowd often turn historical context into a bottomless pit by mining all manner of documents for clues that are really tangential to the point under consideration. I recently had someone try to argue with me, for instance, that the Civil War was really not about slavery because her great-grandfather fought for the Confederacy, and by god he had other motives, and if I would just read all the letters and other papers left by the other Southern peasants, I’d see that they had other reasons for fighting. No doubt. But they weren’t exactly the ones who made the decision to declare war, were they? The ones who did make the decision were quite unequivocal about their motive.

An excellent illustration of how the gun culture utilizes this tactic can be found in what is surely the ultimate compendium of gun culture propaganda: Gun Facts , which is intended to address every “myth” that has been, is being, or ever will be, perpetrated by the “gun control” advocates. It covers gun culture talking points of every possible breed, from mass shootings, to children and guns, to gun laws, to microstamping to concealed carry — and of course to the Second Amendment and court rulings as well. A sleek PDF of Gun Facts can be downloaded for free; and oh by the way while you’re at it, you also can purchase another book heavily marketed within its pages that betrays the real NRA agenda: drawing a bead on “liberals”.

Incidentally, there is a simple but quite reliable litmus test for gauging the probable reliability of any such source of gun “facts”; just check to see whether it places obeisant faith in the absurd “statistic” of 2.5 million defensive gun uses per annum. If it does, there’s an excellent chance it will be just as sloppy about the rest of its “facts”. Gun Facts does, and is. (It also fails another telling litmus test, parroting the claim that Nazi Germany “established gun control” in 1938.)

The main tactic the author uses in the “original intent” argument is to cite passages from several state constitutions (written before and after the U.S. Constitution) that declare residents of those states have the right to be armed for individual purposes. This supposedly demonstrates that the Second Amendment was drawn up with the same intention. See if you can follow the logic here: (a) Several states had constitutions that enshrined an individual right to “bear arms”; (b) the framers of the U.S. Constitution were familiar with these provisions; (c) they did not insert such a stipulation into the U.S. Constitution; (d) therefore, they meant to insert such a stipulation into the U.S. Constitution.

The author also mentions that during the deliberations on the Second Amendment, one senator proposed inserting the words “for the common defense”, but this suggestion was voted down. Evidently, he concludes that rejecting that wording also means a rejection of the concept. (In fact, “for the common defense” is, for one thing, redundant when you already have “well-regulated militia”).  And note the logic here: the absence of a phrase about the common defense means the whole concept is null and void, whereas the absence of a phrase about individual defense means this is clearly what the founders had in mind.

Not content with having shot himself in both feet, the author then turns around and shoots himself in the ass as well by quoting the first draft of the Second Amendment:

The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country; but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.

Talk about an inconvenient clause. Why would there be a provision for conscientious objectors if the purpose of the amendment is to guarantee individuals the right to go deer hunting or gun down illegal immigrants invading their homes? Yes, this clause was eventually eliminated (after being retained in the second draft). And evidently, the Gun Facts author believes, in Orwellian fashion, erasing the text of it erases it from ever having existed at all. But if you’re talking about original intent, it’s hard to argue that the framers had private gun ownership in mind when they talked about military service and religious objections. It’s very clear that they were really talking about a well-regulated militia, whatever that means.

And just what that means is something we’ll be looking at in the next installment.

 

 

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The Biggest Lie About the Civil War

Since 2011 marks the 150th anniversary of the outbreak of The Civil War, perhaps it would be improper to allow the year to expire without commenting on a popular misconception about the bloodiest conflict in American history. Did we say misconception? Nay, it’s an outright lie, spread by proponents of the Confederate cause.

The Big Lie: “It Wasn’t Really About Slavery.”

Advocating slavery would not be a very popular course at present; and it wasn’t even universally popular at the time. Consequently, it often has been camouflaged by other supposed motives. The right to secede. (For what purpose?) Government  policy. (Pertaining to what?) Economic factors. (An economy powered by what?) States’ rights. (To do what?) Every supposed impetus you could name, even if legitimate, could be directly linked to slavery.

“States’ rights” is an especially popular excuse these days; one reason is that it aligns the Neo-Confederates with the Neo-Conservatives, both of whom are concentrated below the Mason-Dixon line.  But both actually support states’ rights only when convenient. For an example of how quickly the Neocons can be prompted to do an about-face on states’ rights, see Bush vs. Gore. For an example of how easily the Confederates could be prompted to do so, see how pissed they became at Northern states who opted not to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act.

From the Horse’s…er,  Mouth

Obstinate adherence to an ideology always requires a certain willingness to ignore facts. But the Dixienauts also seem quite willing, when it suits their purposes, to ignore the words of their own beloved iconic leaders: Confederate “President” Jefferson Davis and “Vice-President” Alexander Stephens.

In January 1861, then-Senator Davis delivered a farewell speech to the U.S. Senate in which he declared why his state of Mississippi was to become a Union dropout:

She has heard proclaimed the theory that all men are created free and equal, and this has made the basis of an attack upon her social institutions.

Stephens was even more explicit. In what was to become known as the Cornerstone Speech, delivered in March of 1861, he declared:

This (equality) was the immediate cause of the late rupture and present revolution.

And he added:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner- stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.

But my favorite part of his speech is this:

This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth. This truth has been slow in the process of its development, like all other truths in the various departments of science…Those at the North, who still cling to these errors, with a zeal above knowledge, we justly denominate fanatics. All fanaticism springs from an aberration of the mind from a defect in reasoning. It is a species of insanity. One of the most striking characteristics of insanity, in many instances, is forming correct conclusions from fancied or erroneous premises; so with the anti-slavery fanatics.

Any questions?

A Dose of Sanity

For an example of what Stephens considered sane behavior, see page 282 of Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book Outliers, in which he describes a standard treatment, known as “Derby’s dose”, administered to runaway slaves by one certain slave owner:

The runaway would be beaten, and salt pickle, lime juice, and bird pepper would be rubbed into his or her open wounds. Another slave would defecate into the mouth of the miscreant, who would then be gagged for four to five hours.

Yes, surely this was the slave’s “natural and normal condition”.

They’ll Rise Again and Again

The Confederate mentality is still very much with us. It never left. You can’t really expect it to when history has so whitewashed what the Confederacy really stood for, and posterity has been so willing to honor the memory of those who died in battle regardless of the values they represented. You may recall that President Ronald Reagan caused a stir by paying tribute to Nazi soldiers, apparently not even considering the implications of his actions.

Walk through Gettysburg and you’ll see monuments to Confederate soldiers right there with monuments to Federal troops, as if their causes were equally noble. They weren’t. One side fought to preserve the Union, the other to rip it apart in order to preserve the institution of slavery. No amount of “politically incorrect” revisionism can change that.

Slavery, whether they knew it or not, was what those Confederate troops fought and died for. And whether they know it or  not, it’s what today’s Neo-Confederates are glorifying.

Don’t Like History? Just Rewrite it!

“We did not have a terrorist attack on our country during President Bush’s term.” — Dana Perino, Fox “News”

“I don’t remember any terrorist attacks on American soil during that time (2000-2008)”.   — Eric Bolling, Fox “News”

(Bolling later explained that he meant post 9-11. He was still ignoring a number of attacks, including three that the Bush administration itself labeled as terrorist.)

“Obama often complains about the problems he inherited from George W. Bush, but he also inherited a record of zero successful attacks on America after 9/11.”  — Michael Goodwin, NY Post

“The Bush administration had seven years after 9-11, no successful attacks in the United States.”  –Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post (speaking on Fox “News”)

“We had no domestic attacks under Bush. We’ve had one under Obama.” — Rudy Giuliani (yes, THAT Rudy Giuliani)

(NOTE: The one “attack” under Obama was actually a FOILED plot – which under a Democratic president counts as a failure rather than a success. During the Bush administration, on the other hand, there was the foiled “shoe bomber” plot, which counts as a resounding triumph for him, and therefore is not included in the attack tally by Giuliani or the others.)